Inspired and depressed in equal measures?

I recently carried out a survey into the situations and attitudes of 122 independent ELT professionals (self-employed teachers, trainer, writers, editors, school owners, consultants). Reading about why they loved their work was inspiring.

Flexibility was the most common answer, which you would expect, and which, let’s face it, can be a double edged sword. But the second most common response revolved around freedom, choice and autonomy.

The importance of autonomy

A sense of autonomy is a huge factor in managing stress- and often overlooked. Research has shown that the more we feel that we have the ability to have at least some control over our workload, the less damaging the stress is physically and mentally.

At work, this means not being micro-managed to within an inch of our lives, when self-employed, it means being able to choose who we work with, what kind of work we take on, when exactly we opt to do the work and so on.

In my experience, however, especially when newly self-employed, many independent ELT professionals don’t fully take advantage of this freedom, and continue to work as if someone is watching them. They feel guilty if they take a break to sit in the garden, or go for a walk, even though they’re likely to work more productively on their return.

Other positive aspects

Other positive aspects to self-employment included variety, being able to follow their passions and interests more closely, helping people, learning new things, and… avoiding office politics.

Toxic work environments are, of course, also another major stressor, and while you may experience some ripples from this as a freelancer, there’s a huge benefit to being one step removed- and to knowing that you can and will shortly leave the situation for the next job.

A handful of people did say that they were making more money, but it has to be said that the vast majority were either reasonably satisfied (i.e. not very), or unsatisfied. This was the depressing, or bad part.

The lot of the freelancer?

Is this just the lot of the freelancer? Do we trade freedom for less cash?

This may be the case if part of that freedom is deciding to work fewer hours, or take longer holidays, but, proportionally there’s no reason why going it alone should mean you make less money, and in my experience with my clients there is nearly always potential to make significantly more.

So, why don’t so many people? Here comes the ugly bit… it’s often self-inflicted.

Absolutely those who employ freelancers are always going to be looking to cut costs, and sometimes the rates offered are abysmal. There are no excuses for this.

But there were also a lot of comments which showed me that freelancers were underselling themselves, and failing to treat themselves in the way that they would no doubt automatically treat anyone else they ‘employed’.

‘’ I still find myself taking on work and offering ridiculous rates (too low). I tend to try and make an assessment on what I think they can afford? This is particularly when dealing with private clients.’’

‘’ Impossible to ask existing students to pay more because we only agree to begin but hardly ever when the lessons will end.’’

‘’ I am happy with my hourly rate but sometimes it feels like the hours spent at my screen do not equate with the hours I invoice.’’

As one client memorably said to me last year, ‘I realised I was the worst boss (to myself) that I’d ever had.’

‘Pricing well is deep self-care.’

I love this quote from money coach, Ray Dodds. Of course self care is about eating well, getting outside, even taking bubble baths….

But, even more fundamental is the whether we are willing to take the steps to make sure that we are earning enough. This isn’t about being ‘materialistic’. There’s nothing wrong with buying material goods in my opinion- my business allowed me to buy an expensive but SUPER comfortable new bed last year and it was worth every penny. However, it isn’t the things you buy that matter, or the money itself, it’s what it allows you to do.

Earning enough means sleeping better (in my case), having more time to exercise or spend with family, not having to work so many hours your back aches or your eyes hurt.. it’s ultimately what gives us the freedom we went into freelancing to achieve.